Ontario Premier Doug Ford today unveiled a series of escalations in COVID-19 shutdown measures across the province with the construction sector announced as limited to essential projects.
It was the third widespread shutdown of the sector since the pandemic hit the province a year ago, following restrictions in March 2020 and January 2021.
“The reality is there are a few options left,” Ford said. “We have implemented the strictest measures in all of North America, and the difficult truth is every public health measure we have left comes with a massive costs to people in their lives.”
Ford was joined by Minister of Health Christine Elliott, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) Monte McNaughton and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, for the announcement, which was twice delayed.
McNaughton explained, “In order to help reduce the spread, we’re shutting down some non-essential construction like shopping malls, hotels, and office towers. However, there are still projects that are critical to our health, like building our homes, our hospitals assessment centres and long term care homes, and we need to ensure those on these sites are being kept safe.”
McNaughton has said in the past he has advocated strongly among his colleagues to keep construction sites open.
Since March 1, 2021, ministry inspectors have conducted 1,800 COVID-19-related field visits in the construction sector and issued over 3,770 orders on those visits and stopped unsafe work 11 times.
A new inspection blitz was launched today, with 200 workplace inspectors set to visit some 1,300 construction sites this weekend. The MLTSD inspectors were to be accompanied by provincial offences officers to ensure health and safety protocols are being maintained.
“Evidence gathered from these inspections continues to show the vast majority of employers and workers in the construction industry are following COVID-19 safety requirements when working,” noted a ministry release.
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board data indicated that of the more than 20,000 confirmed workplace cases of COVID-19 that have been reported, just over 300 COVID-19 were from construction.
The MLTSD and Ontario’s chief prevention officer launched a campaign of rapid antigen testing at large jobsites to prevent infected workers from accessing the site. To date, approximately 142,000 tests have been undertaken in the construction sector.
The Daily Commercial News will have more on this story.